CHANGE YOUR MIND
Psychologist Dr Chloe Paidoussis Mitchell gives some genuinely useful and inspirational ideas for looking after your mental health...
“Man up”, “be a man”, “don’t be a pussy”, “Wtf man – you’re such a girl”, “Don’t be such a wet blanket”. You get the picture. This is what men, especially professional businessmen say to each other in response to negative emotions. It is their attempt to maintain the illusion that “I am ok” that makes such openness and relating impossible. The accidental result is that they oppress and isolate each other and themselves, creating a void, a vacuum that sucks out hope and humanity.
How can men trust it is ok to open up and talk about their mental and emotional distress?
Men it seems are stuck in a paradigm that oppresses them in its toxicity. It is not ok for men to pretend that they don’t encounter and struggle with negative emotions. Of course, they do and many men I work with feel the burden of judgment from other men in their life. The fear is that they will be seen as weak.
Well let me tell you – it is the other way round. It is so much tougher and courageous to step into one’s real narrative and trust that it is ok to share it. It is deeply humbling and men need to share, talk, understand, process, validate and make sense of their emotions just as much as women.
When emotions and feelings have no outlet the result can sometimes be catastrophic. Shutting down is a huge problem and checking out is another.
Mental health happens to anyone of any age, of any gender and of any socioeconomic status. It doesn’t matter if you are a celebrity, a CEO or a teenager in school. If you feel like you must live under a mask, avoiding the authentic sharing of what it is like for you to be you then this is distressing. It is a little like having to exist on an eternal stage where the audience can never offer you anything real in its attempt to connect with you because you are wearing a mask that forces you into a vow of silence.
I have written this article for the amazing BOOK OF MAN to help men release the shackles of such oppression and gain insight into how to relate to their own mental wellbeing.
Mental health is a continuum. It is impossible to go through life forever thriving and feeling strong. Nobody on the face of the earth has lived a life like that. So when we think about mental health we must be careful to be pragmatic.
It is no surprise that men shut down, go in rather than out psychologically speaking, bury their feelings and thoughts and bottle (almost literally) their distress.
Having a Mental Illness is awful and what I am about to offer below is some advice, based on my professional training and work to help men embrace an attitude of Self Care that safeguards and advances their Mental Health because prevention is so much better than cure.
So here are 10 acts of self-love to help you on this journey into yourself.
1. Check where you are with you. Everything we experience is always seen through the lens of our relationship to ourself. If we don’t attend to this and nourish it positively, we seek out situations and dilemmas that will show us what our inner world is like. So for example, if you feel like you are unlovable then you will find yourself in situations that prove you right. So start to investigate your relationship with you today and turn it around. Ask what is it like to be me? How would I like it to be? What beliefs are my holding onto that are keeping me stuck in a negative relationship with myself?
2. Check out your friendships and how much they nourish you positively. Who are your top 10 people and what are their qualities? Create a tree with each branch representing a person in your life and jot down their 5 most significant attributes. Then list them all out and see who is offering you something good and who is not? Your job with this is to invest in connections and relationships that support and love you positively. We are always affected by those around us so it is important to develop clarity and insight on what choices you are making.
3. Think about how you turn up in your significant relationships. Are you being authentic? If not, this means you are living behind a mask and this can do some harm. Your intentions may be good but relationships only deepen and strengthen when we learn to be real, vulnerable and mutual in how we relate to ourselves and to the others we keep in our life.
4. Roadmap your life – what is meaningful to you and what projects work for you? List your last 3 or 4 jobs and recognise what they taught you and what you enjoyed about them. Where are you today? When we have the opportunity to invest our time and energy in meaningful work then we can thrive. Write down your meanings and check to see how many opportunities you have to invest in these. If not why not? What is the one thing you can do to improve things on this front?
5. What do you do to bolster your resilience? This comes from helping others, seeing beyond yourself and being selfless. Anything that helps you do some good and help others is a massive boost. We seem to be living in a difficult age where everyone is busy entertaining themselves. This is good but only up to a point. We have a responsibility to our planet and our humanity to do something positive and this is a massive boost to wellbeing.
6. How much do you look after your body? Check how well you sleep, eat and note down how many hrs a day you spend in a digital world. What do you see? Good for you? The guidelines are that you need 6-8 hrs sleep, a balanced diet, low alcohol intake and as few hours online as possible. Take ownership here and see what changes you can make to safeguard your mental health.
7. Learn to slow down and just breathe. When you breathe you oxygenate your vital organs, you activate your metabolism, you reduce the stress hormone. You can just breathe mindfully or in yoga style for a few minutes every day. It is through the breath we ground and anchor ourselves and this is a resource for courage, inner strength and hope.
8. Exercise mindfully at least 3 times a week and make sure you push yourself a little every time. This boosts self-esteem and produces good hormones.
9. Notice your physical natural environment; trees, flowers, lawns, parks, fields, hills, beaches- all of it awakens that spirit in you that connects to greater meaning and connection. It helps to take you out of your ego and into your heart reminding you that it is an amazing privilege to exist.
10. Practice gratitude everyday. Think and if you can write it down. Be explicit. I am grateful for… because… notice the feeling that comes up and enjoy it. Welcome it in.
Overall mental health is connected to your physical health and you can heal your wounds if you recognise that this is what you want. Set your intention and roadmap it. We all become what we think so it is vital to believe in you, in your reflective capacity to heal and become who you are and to grow wiser and stronger in the face of adversity and chaos. You can do this!